Protein for Fat Loss and Muscle Building

In this post we look at Protein For Fat Loss And Muscle Building, specifically:

  • Why protein is so important to our bodies
  • How much protein should we aim to consume
  • Recommended amount of protein for athletes
  • Recommended amount of protein for fat loss
  • Protein supplementation
  • The best food sources of high quality protein
  • Key take-aways for protein.

Role of Protein In The Diet

Protein is responsible for providing amino acids, which are the 'building blocks' for everything in our bodies from our very structure (muscles, tendons, organs, tissue etc), to hormones, enzymes, our immune system and even some brain chemicals.

The body can produce 12 of the amino acids required to form protein molecules itself (known as the non-essential amino acids), the other 9 (the essential amino acids) are obtained from the protein in the foods we eat.

The intake of dietary protein is required to ensure that the amino acid pool is maintained to an adequate level. Amino acids are constantly drawn from the pool and the intake of dietary protein is required to allow them to be replenished. This is a on-going task and keeping the level of the pool maintained is like filling a bath without the plug having been put in!

If the pool falls into a deficit (insufficient dietary protein eaten) then the body will cannibalise things like enzymes and structural proteins (including muscle breakdown) to meet its needs. Elongated periods of deficit, will result in vital organ functions beginning to shut down in an attempt at self-preservation.

Whilst it might sound beneficial to weight loss, to have the body scavenging and cannibalising itself, this is not a positive action. Any loss of Lean Body Mass (LBM) is not desirable. The higher our levels of LBM, the more calories we burn at rest. This allows for bigger calorie budgets and also allows us to eat more without gaining weight. This in turn, makes weight maintenance a much easier and more pleasant task.

protein for fat loss and muscle building

How Much Protein?

A hotly debated topic amongst the fitness and bodybuilding world – is exactly how much protein is required. A lot of people associate protein’s most important role as that of building muscle (think of people working out and then frantically scrabbling in their locker to quickly mix up a protein shake!)

The fact is, whilst protein intake is important when looking to build muscle, protein also plays an important role when looking to lose weight.

As we touched upon above, when the body is placed into a position of calorie deficit, it will look to obtain the energy required from its own reserves. This can result in a desirable burn of pre-stored body fat but can also come from an undesirable burning of muscle – lowering our overall LBM. In this scenario, the role of protein is to encourage the body to retain muscle tissue and source the energy from body fat – a much more preferable outcome for most.

Minimum Recommended Protein Amounts

For normally healthy people that are sedentary, the recommended minimum amount of protein intake is 0.8g per Kg of body weight. So for a person weighing 160lb (72.6kg), this would come out to 58g of protein per day as a bare minimum.

However, this amount is the absolute minimum recommended to avoid protein deficiency and to cover the basic daily requirements of the body’s functions.

protein for fat loss and muscle building

Recommended Protein Amounts for Athletes

A study conducted by the University of Western Ontario, concluded that for athletes, engaged in intense exercise (such as weight training), the recommended amounts of protein are raised to 1.6g – 1.8g per kilogram of body weight.

Interestingly, this isn't too far from the 'Gym Lore' that has been perpetuated for years which states that 1g of protein per pound of body weight (2.2g per Kg of bodyweight) is the ideal amount.

protein for fat loss and muscle building

Recommended Protein Amounts for Fat Loss

As covered above, elevated protein intake (such as 2.6g per kilogram of body weight) can be useful when calorie intake is restricted for fat loss and aids to prevent the breakdown of lean body mass.

Additionally, it may be preferred to have a diet that is high in protein due to protein’s increased satiety factor and thermogenic effects. These two are extra reasons to ensure your protein intake is given priority whatever your current physique goals are.

Role of Protein in Dieting

When dieting to lose body fat, the key benefits of maintaining a high Protein intake are:

  • Helps to suppress hunger. The increased satiety keeps us feeling fuller for longer.
  • Due to the thermogenic processes required to break down protein into usable energy, a high protein intake causes an increase in our metabolism. Effectively, resulting in around 25% of the calories from protein being offset by the energy expended by the body to break it down. Now we all love FREE stuff! So why not 25% FREE calories!
  • During a calorie deficit, ensuring protein intake remains high will help to ensure that fat is sacrificed (we burn fat) rather than muscle.

Sources of Protein

You can obtain your protein intake from a variety of sources such as: natural foods (meats, fish, plants & vegetables) and in supplement form. Each source will provide varying amounts of protein and essential amino acids per serving as well as varying speeds of absorption. Whole food sources tend to be preferable as you will gain the benefit of the additional nutrients and micronutrients that come with these.

The best sources of protein are those that you find convenient, tasty and easy to absorb. I would recommend your diet consists of a variety of protein sources to ensure you benefit from the various nutrients and micronutrients that each has to offer.

Vegetarian’s and vegans may struggle to achieve a high protein intake from plant and vegetable sources alone. Typically, people in these groups, need to boost their protein intake through the use of compliant protein supplements.

protein for fat loss and muscle building

Ideal Food Sources Of Protein:

Here's a shortlist of high quality food protein sources to include in your diet,

Protein sources for meat eaters:

  • Dairy (semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, cheeses, cottage cheese and yoghurts)
  • Eggs (whites and whole eggs)
  • Protein powders (Whey & Casein)
  • Lean meats (Beef, Venison and game meats)
  • White meats (Chicken, Turkey)
  • Lean Pork (Tenderloin)
  • Fish and Shellfish.

Protein sources for plant based eaters:

  • Low-fat dairy (Greek Yoghurt, cheese, milk)
  • Fermented soy products (Tempeh, Natto and Miso)
  • Non-fermented soy (Tofu, Soy milk)
  • Nuts and Nut Butters (Peanut / Almond)
  • Grains (Quinoa, Teff, Buckwheat)
  • Legumes (​Lentils, Black Beans)
  • Specific Vegan and Vegetarian protein powders.

protein for fat loss and muscle building

Protein Supplementation

These come in various forms: Whey, Casein, Egg, Hemp, Soy etc. Each having differing properties in the protein per serving, absorption rates and amino acid profile.

One point to clear up:

It is 100% NOT NECESSARY to use protein supplements

to achieve a good physique.

That said, they are an extremely convenient way of ensuring you are easily able to meet your daily protein requirements.

Let’s look at the two most common forms of protein supplement powders:

Whey Protein Powder

Easily the most popular protein powder on the market is whey protein powder. Surprisingly, whey is the by-product of cheese production! It’s the result of curdling and straining the milk. In years gone by, this was discarded as waste until scientists proved its contents and bodybuilders realised it was a cheap source of quality protein.

The main benefits of Whey are: It’s cheap, mixes easily with water, is quickly absorbed by the body, can be easily flavoured to make it taste good and has an amino acid profile which makes it ideal for weight training.

You can read our review of Myprotein's Impact Whey Protein Powder.

Casein Protein Powder

Casein protein powder is the second mostly commonly used, after Whey. Casein protein is the curd from the milk portion of the cheese-making process. Casein is also considered a high quality source of protein due to the levels of essential amino acids.

Casein provides a slower release of amino acids than Whey and for this reason is typically taken before bedtime. This provides the body with a positive protein quota during a time of recovery and muscle building. This also aids in the reduction of muscle degradation overnight when in calorific deficit.

Protein For Fat Loss And Muscle Building

  • Regular intensive exercise (weight training etc.) increases your body’s needs for essential amino acids and protein is required to provide these. 1.6g - 1.8g per kilogram of bodyweight is ideal.
  • When in a calorie deficit (aiming to lose fat), keeping your protein intake high, provides these benefits:
  • Increased satiety
  • Encourages your body to sacrifice fat over muscle
  • Speeds up your metabolism.
  • Look to include a variety of protein sources in your diet to ensure your vitamin and micronutrient requirements are taken care of.
  • Use supplemental Protein Powders for convenience. Look to make them an occasional source of your protein, with food forming the majority.
  • If your aim is fat loss, select protein sources appropriately, e.g. low-fat versions of lean meats, fish, cheese, cottage cheese, milk and yoghurts etc.
  • If you are Vegetarian or Vegan, be aware that the amount of protein from sources such as plants and vegetables are much lower than meats and fish and that you will likely need to include regular supplementation to meet your protein requirements. Vegetarian protein powders such as hemp, soy, pea and rice are available.
  • Obtaining sufficient quantities of protein when dining out on the 'High Street' can be difficult. When likely to be presented with a challenge, plan ahead and take your own convenient sources of portable protein.​

Important considerations of protein for fat loss and muscle building

Whilst ensuring a high protein intake does have many benefits, it doesn’t mean that we can simply consume as much protein as humanly possible!

Too much of any food will be stored as body fat, including protein.

Keep it simple, eat a high-quality protein source with each meal.

Use the FoodTheFacts hand measuring system

to control Protein portion sizes.

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